Balancing development and heritage in Old Strathcona

The recent demolition of a historic building on Whyte Avenue has residents and local business owners wondering if the Old Strathcona neighbourhood is losing its character.

“It’s disappointing when we have a dwindling number of heritage buildings,” says Mark Wilson, whose Vivid Print shop is two doors west of the Shragg Building, which previously housed Etzio Clothing before it was demolished in April.

“It will soon get to the point where we have to take the ‘Old’ out of ‘Old Strathcona.’ We won’t be old at all, but will be full of faux heritage buildings.”

With mounds of dirt and debris marking all that’s left of the Shragg, only two other complexes built in the 19th century remain standing in the neighbourhood. The Ross Block and the Strathcona Hotel both have protection from a similar fate, having been designated as heritage sites. However, the Shragg didn’t have such a designation, a status that Karen Tabor, executive director of the Old Strathcona Foundation, would like to see changed for remaining structures built early last century.

“If we had that protection in place, we would not have lost that asset,” says Tabor, who added the owner of the Shragg preferred to build a new three-storey building on the site.

Furthermore, the state of the building didn’t help matters. “We had extensive conversations with the City of Edmonton Heritage Department, and we found a site analysis that had been done on that building in 1978,” says Tabor. “At that time, the condition of that building was listed as poor.”

While Tabor maintains a previous owner at the time allowed the building to deteriorate, Wilson heard otherwise from the demolition workers.

“The folks who were tearing down the building mentioned their equipment was having a hard time because it was well built,” he says.

Designating Old Strathcona buildings is done voluntarily, says Tabor, who believes educating owners on the amenities of preserving these structures is the Old Strathcona Foundation’s best option.

“If we can encourage people to do that, it protects the building assets moving forward,” she says.

“There are lots of studies to show the economic impact of heritage areas. The effects on tourism and their contributions back to municipalities both in tax and property value and the economics around the shopping and entertainment districts. Once you lose that character, people tend to go elsewhere.”

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